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SummaryAmazing technology and production values, but some parts weren't completely thought out.
The GoodPrimal has a lot of flaws, but almost all of them are excused by a killer one-two punch of awesome visuals and the very best engine technology I have ever seen in a PS2 game. The visuals, from the textures and modeling to the motion capture, are just superb: Environments are large and ornate; characters are well-modeled and detailed; textures are sharp and appropriate. The gameplay engine, however, is just a marvel if you have any knowledge of how hard it is to program for the PS2: All areas seamlessly merge together with no loading times; you can switch between two characters even if they're in completely different areas of the world (albeit with a slight pause); models morph into different shapes; you can see clear across the gameworld to see real structures on the other side that you can travel to (ie not just painted backgrounds); the list goes on and on. If every PS2 programming team was as good as these guys, the PS2 would get a lot more respect. (The production values stretch to the manual, which is more comprehensive than most PS2 games, to the bonus features you unlock which include interviews with the designers, actors, band, etc.)
The opening of the game is very strong, with a good story and gameplay that eases you into the travel and combat system without screaming "tutorial!" The main character Jen, through traveling to various worlds, gathers additional forms each with various powers: The Ferai form can jump and land greater distances; the Undine form can communicate telepathically to your companion for help; the Wraith form can move instantly ala The Matrix, and the Djinn form has a whoop-ass longsword for ending combat quickly and efficiently. Switching between these forms to get past various puzzles is implemented well (although not as often as I would have enjoyed).
The music is a combination of hard punk courtesy of 16 Volt, and original orchestral music performed by the City of Praque Philharmonic and Chorus. Overall it is one of the best music soundtracks I have heard in a game, not because the music stands on its own but rather because it fits the game areas and moods so perfectly. Along those lines, the voice acting is very professional. And, a surprise to me, the localization has full dialog re-recorded in French, Spanish, etc.
The BadWhat stops Primal from becoming an instant classic is that there are parts of the game where they obviously rushed through things. The first and last worlds are fantastic, with good puzzles and (in the first part) an excellent story. But the middle of the game has some stages that simply don't feel like enough time was spent on actual motivation for being there; you feel like you're in a water world because, hey, wouldn't it be cool if we put a water world into the game... that sort of thing. Another source of irritation is when your companion, Scree, has lines of dialog that are out of character (they sound like a programmer or designer talking, not his character). One example of this is in the forth world, where Scree mentions that "you need your Djinn aspect". I know that doesn't sound odd out of context, but in context it feels very awkward, as if he had just blatantly said something like "we need to get past this puzzle so you can power up". Also, the attempts at humor in the game mostly fall flat -- very flat. With the exception of one of Scree's lines, pretty much every attempt at humor makes you cringe instead of laugh.
The combat is, at first, exciting and fun, as there are finishing moves and some good combat animation. But within a few battles you realize that all you have to do to win most battles is tap the buttons very quickly, turning combat into button mashing. Once you learn that, battles become tedious instead of exciting; since a few of the battles are downright cheap, it doesn't help.
Amongst all of the great engine technology and graphics, there is no lip-sync during the cutscenes, which is distracting.
Finally, while I enjoyed the game, it has a very strong feel of being mainly designed by a woman (Katie Lea, one of the three designers) for teenage/young women -- but with the Mature rating (one swear word and lots of blood spray), the proper target audience will probably never play it. Odd.